Northern Cape Provincial Legislature
Independent Democrats: Ismail Obaray
We call them cute, they giggle uncontrollably, they believe in dragons, spaceships and that they have imaginary friends, of-course I’m talking about children. We all know one, maybe even have one, or if not, have all been one ourselves. The common ground we all share across the political spectrum is the need to protect the rights of children.
The concept of Children’s Rights is one which cut to the heart of protecting a nation’s future. It is after-all Speaker, the children and youth of any nation, that are its real wealth. Children’s rights are the human rights of children, with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to the young. These rights include the right for children to associate with both biological parents, to human identity, including the rights to food, universal education, health care and criminal laws.
Speaker the history of the development of these rights has been a long and hard fought one. At the heart of it was the need to ensure that all children, who by virtue of their infancy and youth, are unable to take part in the political and legislative life of any society, at-least had a set of legal and political rights which took care of their interests. After-all Speaker, history has taught us, that whether it was on the urban killing grounds of the Bosnian war, or even the recent war in Iraq, or the killing fields of rebels in Congo and other war-torn African regions, to the Drug-Cartel wars of Mexico in Latin America, that it is often the children who are most in harm’s way. It is children all over the world who have endured the harshest conditions in life, and continue to bear the scars well into their adult lives.
Let us remember then that as law-makers, we have a duty to our fellow man, to ensure that the freedoms and protections which every human being has the right to, are also extended to children.
Honourable members I stand here, and remind you of this because we have seen recently what happens when Government, and society stands back and does nothing. We have all seen in the news recently the seeming increase in the number of shocking cases of paedophilia in South Africa.
We have watched and listened in horror, as details of people, who were often trusted members of their community, be revealed to be predators after the innocence of children. The most prominent and recent case is that of Johannes Kleinhans who was recently found guilty on 95 counts, including sexual assault of three girls, by the Parow Magistrates court. The question we all asked ourselves is, how did we as a society allow his reign of terror continue for so long before he was caught and brought to justice. Do our children know their rights and do they know who to speak to when they are violated?
Speaker these are questions which we must answer, and would assert that we as MPL’s should be at the fore-front of helping answer. Indeed the South African legislative sector has played a sterling role in passing legislation which protects children, namely the Children’s Act. This progressive piece of legislation provides clear and comprehensive protections to children, however in many instances, the Government has to come to the party and play its role more effectively.
Indeed Speaker, under the current Government we have seen some of the most disturbing violations of basic rights to children. It is inconceivable that a Government voted in by people could deny school children textbooks in Limpopo, or deny school children in the Eastern Cape with a meal at school, as the School Nutrition Programme, among others, collapsed in that province. Both these cases and many more have effectively seen the Government deny millions of children their full right to an education.
On the safety and security aspect, although recent police statistics point to a marginal decrease in the reported cases of sexual offences against children, the numbers still remain too high, with over 25 000 cases having been reported. Sadly the other contact crimes against children also remain too high in South Africa, with over 22 000 cases of assault, and nearly 800 murders reported in the 2011/12 year. Clearly South Africa is not a very safe place for its children.
This cannot continue Speaker, and we in the Legislature should be the loudest voices, irrespective of party colours, condemning the government’s failures to protect children in this regard.
Honourable Members it is time we take the rights our children more seriously, and begin to build the Open Opportunity Society for All which would guarantee that every child has access to a QUALITY education, safety and security, and QUALITY healthcare. These are the enabling opportunities which will allow our children to be the great Doctors, Engineers, Presidents or whatever their imaginations have them dream to be in the future. It is high time that international days like this, are now marked by action, as opposed to rhetoric and intentions.